Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Dreadmill

Dear Women's Magazines -

In some ways, I'm atypical. I haven't eaten red meat since 1989, I do not see the big deal about SNL's Kristen Wiig, I don't have cable TV.

But in a lot of ways, I'm more like the mythical Everywoman that you claim as your audience . I have the following: a job that has its good points but could be better; more Stuff to Do than Stuff-Doing Time; ten-ish more pounds to lose; two dogs and a husband who all seem to like me well enough on most days (and vice versa).

On behalf of those Everywomen, I gotta tell ya - I'm not down with everything you're spewing at me every month. Some of it is on the money, some of it we have some common ground, and the rest - honestly, either I'm doing this all wrong, or you liiiieeeed like a tobacco exec at a Health and Human Services hearing.

"It's Easy to Work In Exercise During the Day"

I'm willing to meet you halfway on this one. I take all 20+ flights of stairs down to the cafeteria every day at work. And when I can, I exit the train one stop early and walk the rest of the way to my office - and have for the past year or so. Honestly, I do feel better and am more productive when I pull it off, and it's not that big of a deal timewise.

But I didn't lose any weight that way. It's just not enough to make an appreciable difference. Over the past two months I've dropped somewhere around 8 pounds, and I'm literally swimming my butt off. Figure a 15-minute drive to the gym, a solid 30 minutes of swimming (assuming I don't have to wait for a lane), another 45 to shower, dress, and dry hair and the drive home. That's a full hour and a half of non-work time that I had to scrape together out of my already-busy day. It's worth it and it's do-able, but "easy"? No.

Find An Exercise You Love To Do - And DO IT
We're in sync on this one. I like walking, but don't usually have the 3+ hours it takes to burn off as many calories as I need to burn. And finding comfortable sneakers for my extra-wide, flipper-like feet is no easy task. But put me in a pool - where footwear isn't required and flippers are a definite advantage - and I'll stay there for hours. I still get on a treadmill every so often and do weights; swimming, for all its benefits, doesn't build bone density. So in the past two years on the dreadmill, nothin' much. Two months in the pool - weight loss.
Which reminds me.... parents, you might want to try to steer your kid towards an activity they can do for life, like tennis or running or golf. I was a gymnast, and I assure you no co-worker has ever said, "You know, there's a balance beam and a springfloor at the park up the street from me. We should meet up for some tumbling sometime after work" or "You look like you a vaulter - are you interested in joining the company gymnastics team? We kicked Xerox's ass at the corporate Olympics last year."

"Getting in Shape Doesn't Have to Cost Any Money"

In theory, true. I'm sure there's someone out there who gets a charge out of running up and down their house's stairs and hoisting bags of flour or full suitcases or whatever around as weights. And I've heard good things about those $15 fitness DVDs, but my 19-inch TV and playful golden retriever (who does doga on my mat) make that impractical in this house. For those of us who live in the real world - one that has, like, weather - we need a gym.

My costs so far, for an 8-pound loss - I'm not including food, because I mostly shifted around by putting the $ I used to spend on cheese and crackers and Smartfood popcorn towards edamame and strawberries:

* Two athletic Reebok bathing suits - $70 + tax (on sale at Dick's Sporting Goods}

* One pretty bathing suit that proved shockingly and embarassingly inadequate for a good backstroke push-off - $30. I guess I'll bring it to the beach this weekend

* Swimming Cap - $15 (plus the deep conditioner from the two months I swam without one, and the haircut, and the damage to my highlights....)

* Sneakers for my impossible-to-fit, extra-wide, flipper-like feet for land workouts - $80

* Swimmers' shamwow-like super absorbent towel - $10

And keep in mind that I already had a yoga mat, gym bag, extra hair dryer, gym membership, etc. We have a terrific park near the house and I happily go walking there - but not when it's pouring rain (almost every day this month), not when it's over 90 degrees, not when Atlanta's air quality is "unhealthy for every non-cockroach living being" (daily from June to mid-October), and not when the pollen drifts obscure the walking path (March and April).

One free source of inspiration was watching The Biggest Loser. Those folks didn't just show up at the gym and go through the motions - they busted it, they threw up, they sweated through their clothes, they cried, they cursed their trainers. Honest to God, I think of that when I start slowing down on my laps and feel like it might be OK to stop before hitting my goal. And I keep going.

"When You Make Healthful Substitutions, You'll Never Miss Snack Food"

F-you. Seriously. DO NOT tell me that a crunchy carrot stick is a "great substitute" for potato chips. That's insane. What kind of half-wit confuses the two? I happen to love berries, but I'm not so clueless as to notice they're not covered with chocolate.

And the verdict is...
I'm renewing my subscription to Weight Watchers magazine (terrific recipes) and I'll still pick up the occasional copy of Self and Fitness.

Here's the thing - I go to church every Sunday. And the message does not change, ever - in my house of worship, it's "love thy neighbor as thy self" and "follow the Ten Commandments" and "your marriage and your family are important" and "it is impossible to have earned the mercy we are shown, it's a gift." In the past ten or more years that I've gone to the same church, same message. The people who went there 50 years ago? They heard the same thing, every time.

But I need to hear it every week, because it's hard to do and it doesn't mesh with everything I see around me. Same thing with my health - there are no giant billboards advertising carrots the way there are for soda and doughnuts and fried chicken. I need to read the stories every month of someone who lost weight and kept it off to remind me that it can be done.

So dammit, you've got me for a good $10 per month. Just add that to my tab above.

Well played, editors. Well played.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mother's Day for the Uninitiated

The most important thing to know - right now - about Mother's Day is that it was two weeks ago. So if you forgot, you're SO screwed and there's no making it up. Like you'll need to buy Mom her dream car in her favorite color, invite her to move in with you, or just head down to the senior center, pick out a new one, and start over.

As childfree couples with mothers way-out-of-state go, Sweetie and I had quite the shindig. No, the dogs didn't put their furry heads together and hatch some gopherrific scheme to surprise me (thank God). Rather, we brought brunch and conversation to a friend who lost her young adult son earlier this year. Oddly enough she preferred to have it at her house, on her porch overlooking her array of beautifully cultured gardens, instead of in our little dining room with its view of the kitchen. We aim to please.

This is one area of life where I have an embarrassment of riches. My own mother? Fabulous. My mother-in-law? We're truly, genuinely friends. My "other mother-in-law", who I know through Sweetie and to whom we brought brunch? She's terrific. I'm SO blessed. Note that our Moms are out of state, so we sent chocolates (I highly, highly recommend and

It seems oddly appropriate to note that our golden retriever has sought out a Russian grandmother of his very own, and there is sheer joy on their faces when they spot each other. Our neighbor's mother lives with him, and she doesn't speak much English. But she pets well (presumably), and she and Henry Dog have struck up a friendship like nothing I've ever seen. He runs to her when he sees her. She bends down and coos endearments into his big, floppy ear. They smile at each other. It's one of those little serendipitous, joyful things that makes you happy to be a small part of it.

Our brunch was very simple, including a platter of gorgeous fresh strawberries. These Raspberry Cream Cheese Muffins are also a terrific brunch dish. They can be made (and frozen, if necessary) ahead of time. If raspberries are too tart for your taste, substitute blueberries.

Cooking Light - June, 2003Yield: 2 dozen (serving size: 1 muffin)

2/3 cup (5 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (blueberries if you don't care for raspberries)
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine cream cheese and butter in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add sugar; beat until fluffy. Add vanilla, egg whites, and egg; beat well.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and buttermilk to cream cheese mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Gently fold in raspberries and walnuts.

Place 24 foil cup liners in muffin cups. Spoon batter evenly into liners. Bake at 350° 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pans; cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nuggets of Wisdom

As a lifelong picky eater, I really can’t relate to my oldest niece sometimes. Like this, at dinner one night:

“I just don’t know what I want. Only two vegetables? I really want the beets. And the Brussels sprouts. AND the squash.”

She lost me after “don’t know what I want.” Mystified, and possibly a little frightened, DH and I looked at each other. The kid wasn’t putting on an act – it was her first visit to The Colonnade, we were feeding her WAY late (like past-her-bedtime late), she was seriously hungry and as long as olives aren’t involved she loves her veggies.

Figuring there’s a sure Ticket To Hell if you don’t give a child Brussels sprouts when she wants them, Sweetie used one of his side dish options for the sprouts. And Cutie happily gobbled them up, in addition to the beets from my salad and the sweet potatoes that came with her burger.


As an adult, I call myself a “food snob” instead of a “picky eater” although, really, it’s the same thing. I’m super-snobby about Italian food and my sister and I will go to dramatic lengths to avoid ever eating at Olive Garden. And yet, my mother insists that for a SOLID YEAR, sometime before kindergarten, I ate nothing but Spaghetti-O’s. A concoction that I haven’t touched for 30 years, and that caused me to raise an eyebrow when Sweetie told me in our dating days that one of his specialties was “Spaghetti-O’s Primavera.”


So with kids, you just never know. What causes a good sleeper to suddenly be ready to play at 1:30 AM? What causes a seemingly-happy baby to start screaming in the supermarket halfway through the week’s only food-shopping opportunity? What makes a toddler love oatmeal today and projectile vomit at the sight of it tomorrow?

No one knows. The books don’t know, the experts don’t know, the mothers of 12 don’t know, they just work around it.

And yet, they all seem to love McNuggets – which, in my food-snobby opinion, aren’t actually food at all.

If, for marketing purposes, you want to call these “Salmon Nuggets” it may just get the little ones to give these fabulous salmon patties a whirl. Oddly, though, they call for raisins which I simply do not understand. Raisins belong in some salads, oatmeal, oatmeal cookies, and granola. Fish? Seriously??? I doubt even the Brussels sprouts-loving Cutie would touch it.

The salsa is absolutely perfect on the fish, and also works beautifully on chips or chicken.

Salmon Balls/Nuggets/Croquettes with Fresh Tomato SalsaSelf, 10/2002
Tomato Salsa
2 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and diced
3 scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBSP chopped fresh parsley (yes, fresh – dried parsley will taste musty and have a weird mouth-feel)
1 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh basil (yes, fresh)
1 tsp red wine vinegar

Combine everything in a bowl. Season with pepper. Cover and set aside. Don’t add salt until serving – it pulls flavor from tomatoes.

Salmon Balls
1 lb. fresh salmon fillet, chopped into ¼-inch pieces (you can also use the pouches of salmon that are available now)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
¾ cup bread crumbs (OR crushed gluten-free cornflakes)
3 TBSP chopped fresh parsley
2 TBSP Parmesan cheese
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp olive oil
6 cups arugula or spinach, torn into bite-sized pieces

Combine all ingredients except oil and arugula/spinach in a bowl. Mix well. Form walnut-sized balls (about 16); SET ASIDE. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add balls and cook 4 – 6 minutes, turning to brown all ides. Divide arugula among 4 plates. Place 4 balls in center of each and serve with salsa. Sprinkle with salt.

Per serving: 381 calories, 13g fat (3g saturated fat), 34g carbohydrates, 32g protein

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Are There Really Frozen Artichokes?

You know, there are only so many ways to combine corn, tomatoes, and chicken and I think I've tried every last one of them. Time for something new & different.

What helps break me out of a rut is trying some new, random source for recipes. On a whim I picked up Good Housekeeping and was thrilled to find this Greek Chicken dish. Good Housekeeping is hardly new to the world of recipe-making, it's just not something I usually pick up (especially now that even doctor's offices only carry free publications - what is up with that?).

I've never in my life seen or heard of frozen artichokes. Running into a friend at Trader Joe's, she confirmed that I wasn't the only one. Fortunately, Trader Joe's had jarred artichokes that worked just fine. You could zip this up a little bit with marinated artichokes (which will also increase the fat content), and maybe ditch the mint, depending on the marinade.

The cooking is pretty easy. I got all fancy with the serving - cucumbers go beautifully with feta and mint, so I sliced cucumber and fanned it prettily on each plate. Then a little brown rice, topped with chicken, topped with artichoke sauce, topped with feta. YUM.

Oh, and I tried pounding the chicken breasts to an even thickness and did nothing besides scare the crap out of the dogs with all the noise. If you're equally unskilled, either get a sharp knife and slice them thinly yourself (easiest when they're still semi-frozen), or just decide to let them cook a little longer at a slightly lower temp.

Chicken Saute with Artichokes, Lemon, & Mint
Good Housekeeping, May 2009

4 med. skinless, boneless chicken-breast halves (1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp. olive oil (kind of a lot... you can knock it down to 2 or 3)
1 pkg (8 to 10 ounces) of mythical, don't-believe-they-really-exist frozen artichoke hearts, thawed. Whatever. I found a 14-ounce jar and figured that, once drained, they were probably 10ish ounces.
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, chopped, plus additional for garnish [Note: If you haven't cooked with mint before, I'd start with 2 tablespoons in the sauce and see how you like it. You can always add more later, but you can't take it out.]
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I used bottled)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. With meat mallet or bottom of skillet, pound chicken (placed between 2 sheets plastic wrap) to an even 1/2-inch thickness; sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.

2. In 12-inch skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil on medium heat. Add chicken and cook 12 to 14 minutes or until browned on both sides and chicken loses it pink color throughout turning over once. Transfer chicken to shallow serving bowl; cover with foil to keep warm.

3. To same skillet, add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and heat on medium until hot. Add artichokes and cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in broth and heat to boiling on medium-high; boil 2 to 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Remove skillet from heat; stir in mint and lemon juice.

4. To serve, spoon artichoke sauce over chicken; top with feta. Garnish with additional chopped mint leaves.

Each serving about 285 calories, 43g protein